How to apply for the Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP)

I have been meaning to write this post for a while, and I recently got an email that spurred me to just write it. The question was when and how to apply to the Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP). So, here goes! A basic rundown of how to apply to HPSP.

Image courtesy of the US Air Force.

Image courtesy of the US Air Force.

Who should I talk to?

You should talk to a Health Professions recruiter, NOT a regular recruiter. The health professions recruiting process is different in a lot of ways from how the military hires, well, anyone else. Every geographic area (and every branch) should have a health professions recruiter who specifically deals with health professions students.

The Air Force just updated their recruiter search tool to make this easier for health professions folks by adding a healthcare option to their recruiter finder. Go here and check the box that says “healthcare student or professional.” (Side note: in the future, if this link stops working, please contact me using the contact link in the side bar so I can fix it!)


What is the role of the recruiter?

Honestly, the recruiter’s role is largely administrative. The recruiters are enlisted personnel who work full-time as recruiters (read: not doctors, not nurses, not officers). They may have worked in healthcare at some point as a medical technician, or they may not have. They have never been to any of the health professions officer training courses that you will attend, and they have not been to medical school/nursing school/etc. 

Why is that so important? Because they can’t tell you what it’s like to go to Commissioned Officer Training. They can’t tell you what it is like to work in a military hospital, or how the military residency match works. They just don’t know. That isn’t a knock on them, it just is not their job.

If you are selected, your recruiter will arrange for your commissioning oath, and might help you buy your uniforms and other equipment before you leave for training.


What are the requirements to be selected for HPSP?

  • You have to be accepted to medical school (or the program you are applying in, like nursing, social work, or physician assistant). You must submit an acceptance letter with your application packet. You don’t necessarily have to go to the school whose letter you submit in your packet, but the Air Force won’t earmark a scholarship for you until they know you have been accepted to a school.
  • You have to be physically qualified to commission as an officer. What does this mean? In general terms, it means you have to be healthy with no chronic conditions. Famous deal-breakers include asthma and any psychiatric conditions of any kind.
  • Previous surgeries aren’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but you will have to submit medical records to explain every scar you have. These records will have to be reviewed to determine if you will qualify for a waiver.
  • You will have to take a drug test.
  • As of when I applied, at least, the Air Force was giving out scholarships in two ways. First choice goes to people who meet a minimum GPA requirement and, if I remember correctly, a minimum MCAT score. (Forgive me, it was a while ago…) If you meet the minimum requirements, you can send your packet to the board as soon as you have an acceptance letter in hand. 
  • If you don’t meet the minimum GPA requirements, you submit your packet to the board in February. Any scholarships that are left after the “fully qualified” folks get their scholarship are given out to the board in February.
  • Since the board meets in February, if you haven’t gotten an acceptance letter by February, there likely won’t be any scholarships left.


When should I get in touch with a recruiter?

Plan to reach out to a recruiter in late summer of the year in which you are applying to medical school.


For the Air Force, for medical school, the application cycle looks something like this:

  • June of the year before you are planning to start medical school (i.e. your senior year of undergrad, if you are going straight through): apply to medical schools via AMCAS
  • Late summer: find the healthcare recruiter in your area and reach out to them
  • Early fall: complete HPSP application paperwork, background check, forms, etc.
  • October to February: medical school acceptance letters come out
  • February: the selection board meets and all remaining scholarships are given out


What questions should I ask the recruiter?

Ask them if you have any questions about your specific medical history – they should have a good idea what will be disqualifying.


What other questions do you have? What do you want to know about applying for HPSP?

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  • AJ

    Firstly, thank you for this great post. I am a new military spouse, as my husband just shipped to BMT earlier this week. My husband is older than the typical trainee, as he is 33, and is entering with what seems like more professional experience than most of his fellow trainees. His bachelors degree is in Kinesiology and he previously worked as a physical therapy aide and in an orthopedic clinic. He was also a certified nurses assistant for 6 years prior and geriatric aide/rehab aide. Initially, he wanted to try to commission as an officer but his recruiter told him it would be too difficult to apply for OTS without any military experience, so he enlisted. He has his sights set on obtaining his clinical doctorate in Physical Therapy or Physiology. He was still able to enlist and was assigned a medical-related job (Dental Assistant) but he was told he could cross-train into a field more related to his professional experience and career goals in Physiology/Physical Therapy. We had also heard about the Health Professional Scholarship program at Baylor University that allows active duty members to complete a graduate program, e.g. MD, RN, or allied health professional program, while enlisted. Is this different than what you did? Would you have an advice for pursuing the Health Professional scholarship program if you’ve already enlisted? Would you know of any resources or specific offices he could contact for help on how to apply for the HPS program while active duty? Thank you again so much for all your help!

    • Indy (admin)

      Thanks for your message! It sounds like there are a few options available to your husband. First of all, which branch of service is he in? How long is his service commitment? The most important thing for anyone who is currently on active duty to realize is that you MUST be released from your current contract in order to pursue additional training, such as attending DPT school. This usually requires a commander’s recommendation. In other words, if he signed a 6-year contract as a dental assistant, he is committed to spending the next 6 years as a dental assistant before pursuing more training, and he will need specific permission in order to do anything else. In the Air Force, at least, this usually seems to require at least two years in the current job. That being said, I have no direct personal experience in trying to obtain one of these releases, and I am purely going off of my reading of the pertinent Air Force regulations and my conversations with people who have been released from other active duty contracts in order to go to school. I would recommend that he get in touch with his chain of command and with a health professions recruiter in his branch of service. Unfortunately, the person he spoke to sounds like they were a regular recruiter, not a health professions recruiter – healthcare professionals go through a different commissioning process than most other officers, and he needs to talk to someone who understands this unique process. This will likely not be possible until he is done with his initial entry training (BMT +/- tech school).

      That said, there are a couple of pathways to becoming a DPT in the military. To make it easier for other folks to find this answer, I will write it up in the military medicine section of the site. Keep an eye out for it to appear there in the next week or so.

  • Heather

    I am so glad I stumbled on upon this post, thank you so much for taking the time to assemble data and post. I am in the stages of finishing up my Sciences classes. I was actually enlisted in Active duty for 10 years before I got out (voluntary force reduction). I have a degree in Business and was in the JAG when I was in. I finally decided to go back to school and get into the medical field like I have wanted for a long time. I have my sights set on being a PA and am juts exploring my options. Currently I am looking to start getting my patient care hours which is a huge portion of the PA School application. I recently obtained my phlebotomy certification and am going to start working nights/weekends to get hours as well as my current full time job (not medical related, but I need it to pay my bills). I have been in contact with a recruiter about going back in as a Reservist and she contacted me just yesterday to let me know that they have a Med Tech position open. I am really leaning towards taking that slot to get the training and hours that will ultimately help me. I am hoping to apply for the HPSP program (once I get accepted into a PA school… hopefully within 1.5 years. My question is, after reading the different options, there is only mention of Active Duty as a requirement. If I am enlisted in the Reserves, will this hinder my application in any way? In my mind I would think that it would help since I would already be done with the enlistment portion and would only need to go to COT. Any ideas, thoughts or suggestions? I wont have my hours in time to apply through CASPA this spring, so I am looking at applying to schools by the deadline in late fall or the new period in spring 2020. I am just trying to get a good timeline for myself and explore potential options that may help with student loans, etc. Thank you for any advice in advance.

    • Indy (admin)

      Heather, those are great questions. You do have an active duty service commitment after school regardless, which is not influenced by prior service. If you accept a reserve position before starting school, you will most likely need to be released from your reserve contract before you start PA school. This is because the PA school options (more details here) either place you on active duty, or have you commission in the selected reserves, which means neither of them could run concurrently with an enlisted reserve contract. If you think you are going to start school within the next 3-4 years, I would be hesitant to take on a new enlisted contract before then. I would encourage you to talk to a health professions recruiter if you haven’t already – they can help you.

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